Have you considered trialling Linux, but you’re unsure how to go about reorganising your hard drive to run it? Or are you already a Linux user who is frustrated by having to regularly use Windows on other computers? Knoppix (www.knoppix.org) is a Linux distribution that solves both these user issues, and more. Knoppix can run entirely from CD and does not require any hard disk space on your PC. To run Knoppix you need a system with 128MB of RAM, a VGA video card and a CD-ROM drive. The Knoppix CD allows you to use Linux on any computer immediately, without needing to perform an installation.
Removing Knoppix is easy: simply eject the Knoppix CD and reboot your PC. Included with the Knoppix Linux distribution are some of the best applications available for Linux, including the KDE 3.1 desktop, OpenOffice.org 1.0 and over 900 other programs.
To start Knoppix, place the CD (included on the cover of this month’s issue) in your CD-ROM drive and boot your computer. If your computer does not automatically boot into Knoppix, you will need to configure your system BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM drive.
To configure your system BIOS, consult the motherboard or system manual that came with your PC for instructions. The system BIOS contains a menu that will allow you to decide from which device on your system to boot — hard disk, floppy disk, or CD-ROM. If you are unsure about configuring your system BIOS, a PC-savvy friend should be able to assist.
If you’re new to Linux — and many of you may be — the Knoppix desktop may look different to what you are accustomed to. After spending some time familiarising yourself, you will discover more similarities to a Windows desktop than you initially realised (see here for a screenshot).
In the left corner of the toolbar running along the bottom of the desktop is the K button. Click on this button to show a list of programs available on the system. Located next to the K button are several launchers for commonly used programs such as Mozilla and OpenOffice.org.
To the right of these buttons you will see a box divided into four regions. This is your virtual desktop navigator. KDE gives you four workspaces on which to organise your windows. You can switch between desktops by clicking on the virtual desktop navigator. On the desktop you will find icons for accessing your CD-ROM and hard disk.
Configuring an Internet connection
Knoppix provides wizards for configuring most of the popular types of Internet connection. To access the wizard for your connection, click on the K button and select KNOPPIX-Network/Internet from the list. Select the appropriate wizard and follow the prompts to configure your Internet connection. You may need information such as your ISP’s phone number, DNS servers and login information to complete this process.
Saving settings to disk
If you boot Knoppix directly from the CD-ROM — which is a read-only medium — your system settings, such as the layout of your desktop and any configured Internet connections, will not be saved when you shut down. You can save your settings between Knoppix sessions using most forms of removable media, including floppy and Zip disks. To save your settings, click on the K button and select KNOPPIX-Configure-Save Knoppix Configuration. From here you will be asked to select the settings you would like to save from a list. Next you will need to select a device (such as a floppy drive) from the available devices on your system. Select the appropriate device, insert a blank disk and click OK to save your system settings.
If you want to use Knoppix without regularly performing the above process to save your settings, you can create a persistent home directory for your files and settings on a hard disk or floppy/Zip disk. If you don’t employ a persistent home directory, any files you save while in Knoppix may be deleted on reboot.
If your computer normally runs Windows 95/98/Me, you can create a persistent home directory by clicking the K button and selecting KNOPPIX-Configure-Create a Persistent KNOPPIX Home Directory. Currently, Knoppix does not support writing to NTFS formatted disks, so if you use Windows XP/2000 you may not be able to save to your hard disk and instead should use a floppy or Zip disk.
If you’re new to Linux, Knoppix is worth experimenting with before taking the plunge and installing a full Linux distribution. For experienced Linux users, Knoppix offers a handy way to take your computer with you in your briefcase. No matter where you are, you can always access the same software in a familiar environment. Knoppix also makes a great rescue CD for system administrators.